Court Coronavirus Information
- Best Practices for All Court Proceedings During COVID-19 Pandemic (Issued March 2021)
- Petit Juror COVID-19 Pre-Screening Questionnaire
- Remote Juror Questionnaire
- Report: Jury Trials During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Observations & Recommendations (Issued August 2020)
Most Recent Update
March 17, 2021
Above, you will find a set of Best Practices for All Court Proceedings During COVID-19 Pandemic that are being issued pursuant to the Supreme Court’s 36th Emergency Order and may be updated as needed from time to time. The Best Practices are meant to provide you with information to assist you and your colleagues in conducting in-person and remote proceedings during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a reminder, the Supreme Court’s Emergency Order requires each local administrative district judge or municipal court presiding judge to adopt minimum standard health protocols for use throughout court building for court participants and the public attending court proceedings. For more information on the requirements of the 36th Emergency Order, consider watching the webinar on that topic.
State of the Judiciary
Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht will deliver the biennial State of the Judiciary address next Tuesday, March 23, at noon. The address will be streamed at www.txcourts.gov/SOJ on the one year anniversary of the Texas Courts’ transition to remote proceedings. Chief Justice Hecht is expected to highlight the amazing work of the judiciary during the past year and lay out the priorities of the judiciary during his address. We invite you to tune in and to spread the word among members of the public.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
March 5, 2021
Supreme Court Extends General Emergency Order; Lifts Restrictions on In-Person Proceedings and Jury Trials
Today, the Supreme Court issued the Thirty-Sixth Emergency Order that renews the Thirty-Third Emergency Order, as amended. The Order continues to provide flexibility to courts to conduct proceedings remotely and provides revised criteria in order for courts to conduct in-person proceedings, including jury trials. The Thirty-Sixth Emergency Order is effective immediately. A webinar to discuss the changes in the Order is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Tuesday, March 9. Register for the webinar at https://txcourts.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_vonTbMP5Ru6boWpbAJZL6Q. (Space for the webinar is limited but if it becomes full, you will be redirected to watch it on the TXCourts YouTube page). If you are unable to attend live, please register and a recording of the webinar will be sent to you after the webinar.
The following are key highlights from the order:
- Subject to constitutional limitations, all courts are permitted to—and required to avoid risk to court staff, parties, attorneys, jurors, and the public—without a participant’s consent:
- modify and suspend deadlines and procedures through June 1, 2021;
- allow or require anyone to participate remotely in a proceeding;
- conduct proceedings away from the court’s usual location with reasonable notice and access to the participants and the public;
- take any other reasonable action to avoid exposing court proceedings to the threat of COVID-19, including requiring compliance with social distancing protocols and face coverings worn over the nose and mouth.
- As stated in Attorney General Opinion KP-0322, “judges possess broad inherent authority to control orderly proceedings in their courtrooms, and pursuant to that authority, they can require individuals in the courtroom to wear facial coverings” and “may require any person entering the courthouse in which they preside to wear a facial covering while in the courthouse.”
- Courts should, but are no longer required to, use reasonable efforts to conduct proceedings remotely.
- Upon request and good cause shown, judges are required to permit any court participant, other than a juror, to participate remotely in any proceeding, subject to constitutional limitations.
- District courts, statutory county and statutory probate courts, constitutional county courts, justice of the peace courts and municipal courts may conduct in-person proceedings, both jury and non-jury, if the local administrative district judge or presiding judge of the municipal court, in consultation with the judges in the county or municipal court building, as applicable, adopts the following:
- minimum standard health protocols for all court proceedings in the county or municipal court buildings, as applicable, and the public attending court proceedings that will be employed in all courtrooms and throughout all public areas of the court buildings, including masking, social distancing, or both; and
- an in-person proceeding schedule for all judges in the county or municipal court buildings, as applicable.
- The new minimum standard health protocols are not required to be approved by the regional presiding judges or submitted to OCA.
- Examples of minimum standard health protocols have been published by the state Department of Health Services and include items such as screening, social distancing, face coverings, seating arrangements, etc. OCA’s previously published Guidance may also be helpful in establishing the protocols. OCA intends to issue Best Practices soon that will detail some recommended minimum standard health protocols.
- The court operating plans and recertified plans adopted pursuant to previous Supreme Court Orders and OCA’s Guidance for All Court Proceedings During the COVID-19 Pandemic are no longer required for courts to conduct in-person proceeding, both jury and non-jury. However, local administrative district judges and presiding judges of municipal courts may wish to adopt the previously submitted operating plans as minimum standard health protocols.
- All judges in county buildings or municipal court buildings are required to follow the minimum standard health protocols adopted by the local administrative district judge or presiding judge of the municipal court. A judge may impose stricter health protocols in his or her court than those required by the adopted minimum standard health protocols.
- In order to conduct an in-person jury proceeding a court must also:
- to assist with coordination of local resources and to manage capacity issues, obtain prior approval, including a prior approved schedule, for the jury proceeding from the local administrative district judge or presiding judge of the municipal courts, as applicable;
- consider on the record any objection or motion related to continuing with the jury proceeding at least seven days before the jury proceeding or as soon as practicable if the objection or motion is made or filed within seven days of the jury proceeding;
- establish communication protocols to ensure that no court participants have tested positive for COVID-19 within the previous 10 days, have had symptoms of COVID-19 within the previous 10 days, or have had recent known exposure to COVID-19 within the previous 14 days;
- include with the jury summons information on the precautions that have been taken to protect the health and safety of prospective jurors and a COVID-19 questionnaire to be submitted in advance of the jury selection that elicits from prospective jurors information about their exposure or particular vulnerability to COVID-19; and
- upon request by a prospective juror, excuse or reschedule any prospective juror who provides information confirming their COVID-19 infection or exposure or their particular vulnerability to COVID-19.
- Judges may conduct remote jury proceedings without the consent of the parties—except in jailable criminal cases—as long as the court considers on the record any objection or motion related to proceeding with the remote jury proceeding at least seven days before the proceeding or as soon as practicable if the objection or motion is made or filed within seven days of the jury proceeding and ensures that all potential and selected petit jurors have access to technology to participate remotely.
- In criminal cases where confinement in jail or prison is a potential punishment, remote jury proceedings must not be conducted without appropriate waivers and consent obtained on the record from the defendant and prosecutor.
- OCA has technology resources to assist courts with providing technology to potential and selected petit jurors. Please contact email@example.com for more information.
- The Office of Court Administration should issue, and update from time to time, best practices to assist courts with safely and effectively conducting in-person and remote court proceedings. The first version of the best practices will be issued next week.
If you have any questions or concerns related to anything in this update, please do not hesitate to reach out by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.